Henry C. Watson.

The Old Bell of Independence; Or, Philadelphia in 1776 online

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[Illustration: The Old State House Bell]







With Illustrations.

Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1851, by LINDSAY AND
BLAKISTON, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United
States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.


To awaken in the minds of all Americans that veneration of the patriots
and heroes of the War of Independence, and that emulation of their noble
example which is so necessary to the maintenance of our liberties, are
the objects of this little work. Every day's developments illustrate
the importance of these objects. In the enjoyment of the freedom and
prosperity of our country, we are apt to under-rate the means by which
that enjoyment was secured to us, and to forget the men who worked for
that end. A knowledge of the toils and sufferings of the noble-hearted
fathers of the Revolution is the best preventative, or curative, for
this "falling off." War, clothed as it is, with horrors, is to be
condemned, and the spirit which leads to it should be driven from the
breasts of men. But generous devotion, strength of resolution, and
far-reaching skill, are things to be commended and imitated wherever
displayed. In these pages, will be found stories of the chief men of the
Revolution, so connected, by the manner in which they are narrated, as
to give a general interest to them - "The Old Bell of Independence" being
the rallying point of the veteran story-tellers.



























It was a season of unparalleled enthusiasm and rejoicing, when General
Lafayette, the friend and supporter of American Independence, responded
to the wishes of the people of the United States, and came to see their
prosperity, and to hear their expressions of gratitude. The national
heart beat joyfully in anticipation; and one long, loud, and free shout
of welcome was heard throughout the land.

Arriving at New York in August, 1824, General Lafayette journeyed
through the Eastern States, receiving such tokens of affection as the
people had extended to no other man except Washington, and then returned
southward. On the 28th of September, he entered Philadelphia, the
birth-place of the Declaration of Independence, the greater part of the
population coming out to receive and welcome him. A large procession was
formed, and thirteen triumphal arches erected in the principal streets
through which the procession passed.

After General Lafayette himself, the most remarkable objects in the
procession were four large open cars, resembling tents, each containing
forty veterans of the struggle for independence. No one could, without
emotion, behold these winter-locked patriots, whose eyes, dimmed by age,
poured forth tears of joy at their unexpected happiness in once more
meeting an old commander, and joining in the expressions of gratitude to

After passing through the principal streets, General Lafayette was
conducted into the hall of the State-House, where the old Continental
Congress had assembled, and where the immortal Declaration of
Independence was signed. Here the nation's guest was received formally
on behalf of the citizens by the mayor, and then the people were
admitted to take him by the hand. At night there was a splendid
illumination; and crowds of people traversed the streets, singing and
celebrating the exploits of the champion of liberty and the friend of

On one of the days succeeding Lafayette's grand entry into the city,
he received, in the Hall of Independence, the veteran soldiers of the
Revolution who had come to the city, and those who were residents. One
by one these feeble old men came up and took the General by the hand,
and to each he had some reminiscence to recall, or some congratulation
to offer. Heroes of Brandy wine, Germantown, Trenton, Princeton,
Monmouth, and other fields, were there; some with scars to show, and all
much suffering to relate. The old patriotic fire was kindled in their
breasts, and beamed from their furrowed countenances, as memory flew
back to the time that proved their truth and love of liberty. One had
been under the command of the fiery Wayne, and shared his dangers with
a spirit as dauntless; another had served with the cool and skilful
Greene, and loved to recall some exploit in which the Quaker general
had displayed his genius; another had followed the lead of Lafayette
himself, when a mere youth, at Brandywine: everything conspired to
render this interview of the General and the veteran soldiers as
touching and as interesting as any recorded by history, or invented by

After the reception of the veterans, one of them proposed to go up into
the belfry, and see the old bell which proclaimed liberty "to all the
land, and to all the nations thereof." Lafayette and a few others
accompanied the proposal by expressing a wish to see that interesting
relic. With great difficulty, some of the old men were conducted up to
the belfry, and there they beheld the bell still swinging. Lafayette was
much gratified at the sight, as it awakened his old enthusiasm to think
of the period when John Adams and his bold brother patriots dared to
assert the principles of civil liberty, and to proclaim the independence
of their country. Old John Harmar, one of the veteran soldiers who had
been in Philadelphia when the Declaration was proclaimed, and who again
shook hands with his old brothers in arms, gave vent to his thoughts and
feelings as he stood looking at the bell.

"Ah! that's the trumpet that told the Britishers a tale of vengeance! My
memory's not so bad but I can recollect the day that old bell was rung
for independence! This city presented a very different appearance in
those days. It was a small town. Every body was expectin' that the
king's troops would be comin' here soon, and would sack and burn the
place: but the largest number of us were patriots, and knew the king was
a tyrant; and so we didn't care much whether they came or not. How the
people did crowd around this State-House on the day the Declaration was
proclaimed! Bells were ringing all over town, and guns were fired; but
above 'em all could be heard the heavy, deep sound of this old bell,
that rang as if it meant something! Ah! them was great times."

As old Harmar concluded these remarks, the old men standing near the
bell nodded approvingly, and some echoed, "Them _was_ great times!" in
a tone which indicated that memory was endeavoring to conjure back the
time of which they spoke. They then slowly turned to descend. Lafayette
had preceded them with his few friends. "Stop!" said old Harmar;
"Wilson, Morton, Smith, and you, Higgins, my son wants you to come home
with me, and take dinner at his house. Come; I want to have some chat
with you over old doings. I may never see you again after you leave

The invitation, cordially given, was cordially accepted, and the party
of old friends descended the stairs, and, arriving at the door, were
assisted by the cheering crowd to get into their carriage, which then
drove towards the residence of old Harmar's son. At that place we shall
consider them as having arrived, and, after much welcoming, introducing,
and other preparatory ceremonies, as seated at a long, well-supplied
table, set in a large and pleasant dining-hall. Young Harmar, his wife,
and the four children, were also accommodated at the same table, and a
scene of conviviality and pleasure was presented such as is not often
witnessed. The old men were very communicative and good-humored; and
young Harmar and his family were free of questions concerning the great
scenes through which they had passed. But we will let the company speak
for themselves.


"GRANDFATHER," said Thomas Jefferson Harmar, "won't you tell us
something about General Washington?"

"I could tell you many a thing about that man, my child," replied old
Harmar, "but I suppose people know everything concerning him by this
time. You see, these history writers go about hunting up every incident
relating to the war, now, and after a while they'll know more about
it - or say they do - than the men who were actors in it."

"That's not improbable," said young Harmar. "These historians may not
know as much of the real spirit of the people at that period, but that
they should be better acquainted with the mass of facts relating to
battles and to political affairs is perfectly natural." The old man
demurred, however, and mumbled over, that nobody could know the real
state of things who was not living among them at the time.

"But the little boy wants to hear a story about Washington," said
Wilson. "Can't you tell him something about _the_ man? I think I could.
Any one who wants to appreciate the character of Washington, and the
extent of his services during the Revolution, should know the history of
the campaign of 1776, when every body was desponding, and thinking
of giving up the good cause. I tell you, if Washington had not been
superior to all other men, that cause must have sunk into darkness."

"You say well," said Smith. "We, who were at Valley Forge, know
something of his character."

"I remember an incident," said Wilson, "that will give you some idea,
Mrs. Harmar, of the heart George Washington had in his bosom. I suppose
Mr. Harmar has told you something of the sufferings of our men during
the winter we lay at Valley Forge. It was a terrible season. It's hard
to give a faint idea of it in words; but you may imagine a party of
men, with ragged clothes and no shoes, huddled around a fire in a log
hut - the snow about two feet deep on the ground, and the wind driving
fierce and bitter through the chinks of the rude hovel. Many of the men
had their feet frost-bitten, and there were no remedies to be had, like
there is now-a-days. The sentinels suffered terribly, and looked more
like ghosts than men, as they paced up and down before the lines of

"I wonder the men didn't all desert," remarked Mrs. Harmar. "They must
have been uncommon men."

"They were uncommon men, or, at least, they suffered in an uncommon
cause," replied Wilson. "But about General Washington. He saw how the
men were situated, and, I really believe, his heart bled for them. He
would write to Congress of the state of affairs, and entreat that body
to procure supplies; but, you see, Congress hadn't the power to comply.
All it could do was to call on the States, and await the action of their

"Washington's head-quarters was near the camp, and he often came over to
see the poor fellows, and to try to soothe and comfort them; and, I tell
you, the men loved that man as if he had been their father, and would
rather have died with him than have lived in luxury with the red-coat

"I recollect a scene I beheld in the next hut to the one in which I
messed. An old friend, named Josiah Jones, was dying. He was lying on a
scant straw bed, with nothing but rags to cover him. He had been sick
for several days, but wouldn't go under the doctor's hands, as he always
said it was like going into battle, certain of being killed. One day,
when we had no notion of anything of the kind, Josiah called out to us,
as we sat talking near his bed, that he was dying, and wanted us to pray
for him. We were all anxious to do anything for the man, for we loved
him as a brother; but as for praying, we didn't exactly know how to go
about it. To get clear of the service, I ran to obtain the poor fellow a
drink of water to moisten his parched lips.

"While the rest were standing about, not knowing what to do, some one
heard the voice of General Washington in the next hut, where he was
comforting some poor wretches who had their feet almost frozen off.
Directly, he came to our door, and one of the men went and told him the
state of things. Now, you see, a commander-in-chief might have been
justified in being angry that the regulations for the sick had been
disobeyed, and have turned away; but he was a nobler sort of man than
could do that. He entered the hut, and went up to poor Josiah, and asked
him how he was. Josiah told him that he felt as if he was dying, and
wanted some one to pray for him. Washington saw that a doctor could do
the man no good, and he knelt on the ground by him and prayed. We all
knelt down too; we couldn't help it. An old comrade was dying, away from
his home and friends, and there was our general kneeling by him, with
his face turned towards heaven, looking, I thought, like an angel's.
Well, he prayed for Heaven to have mercy on the dying man's soul; to
pardon his sins; and to take him to Himself: and then he prayed for us
all. Before the prayer was concluded, Josiah's spirit had fled, and his
body was cold and stiff. Washington felt the brow of the poor fellow,
and, seeing that his life was out, gave the men directions how to
dispose of the corpse, and then left us to visit the other parts of the

"That was, indeed, noble conduct," said young Harmar. "Did he ever speak
to you afterwards about violating the regulations of the army?"

"No," replied Wilson. "He knew that strict discipline could not be, and
should not have been maintained in that camp. He was satisfied if we
were true to the cause amid all our sufferings."


"Praying at the death-bed of a private," mused Smith aloud. "Well, I
might have conjectured what he would do in such a case, from what I saw
of him. I wonder if history ever spoke of a greater and better man?"

Young Mr. Harmar here felt inclined to launch out into an elaborate
panegyric on the character of Washington, but reflected that it might be
out of place, and therefore contented himself with remarking, "We shall
ne'er look upon his like again."

"He was a dear, good man," remarked Mrs. Harmar.

"Yes," said old Harmar, "General Washington was the main pillar of the
Revolution. As a general, he was vigilant and skilful; but if he had
not been anything more, we might have been defeated and crushed by the
enemy. He had the love and confidence of the men, on account of his
character as a man, and that enabled him to remain firm and full of hope
when his countrymen saw nothing but a gloomy prospect."


"Now I'll tell you a story that I have just called to mind," said old
Harmar. "It's of a very different character, though, from the story of
Washington. It's about a spy's fate."

"Where was the scene of it?" inquired Mrs. Harmar.

"Out here on the Schuylkill's banks, just after the British took
possession of this city," replied old Harmar. "There was a man named
James Sykes, who had a lime-kiln on the east bank of the river, and was
manufacturing lime pretty extensively when the enemy came to this city.
While Congress was sitting here, Sykes always professed to be a warm
friend to the colonial cause; but there was always something suspicious
about his movements, and his friends and neighbours did not put much
faith in his professions. He would occasionally be out very late at
night, and sometimes be gone from home for a week, and give very vague
accounts of the business which had occupied him during his absence. Some
of his neighbours suspected that he was acting as one of Sir William
Howe's spies, but they could never get any positive proof of their

"At length the enemy took possession of this city, and then Sykes began
to show that he was not such a very warm friend of the right side. He
went to the head-quarters of the British general frequently, and seemed
to be on the best terms with the enemy. Well, it happened that one of
his old neighbors, named Jones, was the captain of one of the companies
of our line; and he, somehow or other, obtained proof that Sykes was
acting as a spy for the enemy. He informed General Wayne of the fact,
and immediately proposed that he should be allowed to attempt his
capture. Wayne consented, and Captain Jones set about preparing for the
enterprise. Sykes was usually out at his lime-kiln, with some of his
men, during the morning, and, as the guilty are ever suspicious, he
increased the number of his assistants, to ensure himself against
attack. Captain Jones took only twenty men from his company, and left
our camp just before dark. The business was full of danger. The place
where Jones expected to capture the spy was within a mile of a British
out-post; and the greatest secrecy and rapidity of movement was
necessary to prevent surprise by the enemy's scouting parties.

"About daylight, Jones and his party reached the wood near Sykes'
lime-kiln, and halted to reconnoitre. Sykes and four of his men were at
work at that early hour. The lime was burning, and some of the men were
engaged in loading and unloading two carts which stood near the kiln.
Captain Jones' plan was quickly formed. He sent one half his party
around to cut off the escape of Sykes towards the city, and when he
thought they had reached a favorable position sallied out towards the
kiln. When he was about half-way to it, Sykes discovered the party,
and, shouting to his men to follow, ran along the bank of the river
to escape; but the other party cut off retreat, and Jones coming up
rapidly, Sykes and his men were taken. Jones did not intend to detain
the workmen any longer than till he got out of the reach of the British,
when he would not have cared for their giving the alarm. Sykes seemed to
be very anxious to know why he was arrested in that manner; but Jones
simply told him he would know when they got him to the American camp;
and that, if Sykes had not thought of a reason for his arrest, he
would not have attempted to run away. Well, the Americans hurried the
prisoners towards the wood, but Jones soon descried a large party of
British coming over a neighboring hill, and knew that his chance was
a desperate one. Sykes also discovered the party of red-coats, and
struggled hard to make his escape from the Americans. Jones wanted to
bring him alive to the American camp, or he would have shot him down at
once. Suddenly, Sykes broke away from his captors, and ran towards the
lime-kiln. Several muskets were discharged, but all missed him. Then
one of the privates, named Janvers, a daring fellow, rushed after the
prisoner, and caught him just as he reached the kiln. There a fierce
struggle ensued; but Sykes was cut in the shoulder, and, in attempting
to throw his antagonist into the hot lime and fire, was hurled into it
himself. Then Janvers hurried to the woods after his brave comrades. The
British party was near enough to see the struggle at the limekiln, and
came on rapidly in pursuit of our men. A few of the red-coats were
ordered to examine the lime-kiln, to see if Sykes was alive and
concealed; and they found his body burned almost to a crisp."

"Horrible!" exclaimed Mrs. Harmar.

"Well," continued Old Harmar, "there was a long and doubtful race
between the two parties; but Jones succeeded in getting within the lines
of the Americans without losing a man, and with his four prisoners in
safe custody. These fellows were examined, but no evidence of their
being spies and confidants of Sykes could be produced, and they were
discharged with the promise of a terrible punishment if they were
detected tampering with the enemy."

"Captain Jones was a daring fellow to venture so near the British lines,
and with such a small party," observed Morton.

"In such an attempt, a small party was preferable. Its success depended
upon secrecy and quickness of movements," said Wilson.

"It was a horrible death," remarked young Harmar. "Sykes, however,
courted it by treachery to his countrymen."


"I believe this is the first time I've seen you since the disbanding of
the army, Morton," said Wilson. "Time has been rather severe on us both
since that time."

"Oh, we can't complain," replied Morton. "We can't complain. I never
grumble at my age."

"Some men would have considered themselves fortunate to have seen what
you have seen," said young Harmar. "I think I could bear your years, to
have your experience."

"So do I," added Mrs. Harmar. She always agreed with her husband in
whatever he asserted.

"Let me see," said old Harmar; "where did I first meet you, Higgins?
Oh! wasn't it just before the battle of Brandywine you joined the
Pennsylvania line?"

"No," answered Smith for Higgins, who, just then, was endeavoring to
make up for his want of teeth by the vigorous exertions of his jaws. "He
joined at the same time I did, before the battle of Germantown."

"Yes, just before the battle of Germantown," added Higgins. "I was not
at Brandywine."

"You wasn't? Then you missed seeing us retreat," said old Harraar. "But
we did considerable fightin', howsomever. Mad Anthony was there, and he
used to fight, you know - at least the enemy thought so. I shall never
forget the night before that battle."

"Why?" asked Higgins. "Was you on the watch?"

"No, not on that account; something very different. There was a sermon
preached on the evenin' before that battle, such as can only be heard

"A sermon?" enquired Wilson.

"Yes; a sermon preached for our side by the Rev. Joab Prout. I told my
son there about it, and he wrote it into a beautiful sketch for one of
the papers. He's got a knack of words, and can tell about it much better
than I can. Tell them about it, Jackson, just as you wrote it," said old

"Certainly," replied young Harmar. "If I can recall it."

"Do," said Mrs. Harmer; and "Oh! do," added the children; and Mr.
Jackson Harmar did - as follows: - "All day long, on the tenth of
September, 1777, both armies were in the vicinity of each other, and
frequent and desperate skirmishes took place between advanced parties,
without bringing on a general action. At length, as the day closed,
both armies encamped within sight of each other, anxiously awaiting the
morrow, to decide the fate of the devoted city.

"The Americans lay behind Chadd's Ford, with the shallow waters of the
Brandywine between them and their opponents; the line extending two
miles along that stream.

"The sun was just sinking behind the dark hills of the west, gilding the
fading heavens with an autumnal brightness, and shedding a lurid glare
upon the already drooping and discolored foliage of the surrounding
forests. It was an hour of solemn calm. The cool evening breezes stole
softly through the air, as if unwilling to disturb the repose of all
around. The crystal waters of the creek murmured gently in their narrow
bed, and the national standard flapped lazily from the tall flag-staff
on its banks.

"In the American camp, interspersed between groups of tents and stacks
of arms, might be seen little knots of weary soldiers seated on the
ground, resting from the fatigues of the day, and talking in a low but
animated tone of the coming contest.

"Suddenly the tattoo sounded, - not loud and shrill, as on ordinary
occasions, but in a subdued and cautious manner, as if fearful of being
heard by the British, whose white tents might be seen in the distance.
Obedient to the signal, the greater part of the soldiers assembled
in front of the marquee of the commander, near the centre of the

"All was hushed in expectation: soon the tall form of Washington,
wrapped in his military cloak, and attended by a large body of officers,
was seen advancing in their midst. All present respectfully saluted
them, to which they bowed courteously, and then took their seats upon
camp-stools set for them by a servant. The venerable Joab Prout,
chaplain of the Pennsylvania line, then stood upon the stump of a tree,

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Online LibraryHenry C. WatsonThe Old Bell of Independence; Or, Philadelphia in 1776 → online text (page 1 of 11)